Show-Me Government: At-a-glance updates on the Missouri legislature
Here’s what you need to know to stay on top of state government news
Updated as of 2 p.m. May 17.
The legislative session ended on May 12, and progress was slow throughout. Just 71 bills made it to the desk of Gov. Eric Greitens, while the past two sessions each saw over 130 bills passed by the General Assembly. Much of the slowdown seemed to come from the Senate, as disagreement within the Republican party hindered progress. Though the Republican’s had a supermajority this session, much of their agenda was left unfinished.
Some major Republican goals for the session included legislation addressing labor reform and right-to work, charter schools, ethics reform, budget problems and social issues. Right-to-work was the biggest success for the agenda, but most of the others fell short of expectations.
After a chaotic last day of session, Gov. Greitens hinted at calling a special session to address some additional topics.
We have kept a list of the major topics breached by the Missouri legislature this session, and we want you to know which measures saw legislative success and which ones died in the process.
The Senate heard testimony on three bills regarding abortion. Senate bills 67, 41 and 96 would all add different regulations to the practice.
Conversation: There was hearty debate both in favor of and against the proposed legislation, including the constitutionality of one of the bills.
What happened? This will continue to be a heavily debated topic and faces division, mainly along party lines. Fierce debate continued in the House and the House passed the bill regarding donation of fetal tissue. All abortion bills saw no further progress and none were passed during session.
House Bill 175 would no longer allow local government to regulate or create any ordinances or rules regarding “seeds, fertilizers or soil conditioners.” This would leave most regulation to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Missouri Department of Agriculture.
Conversation: Supporters of the bill believe that state regulation is all that is necessary, and local regulation can cause problems. Opponents worry about loopholes in the bill and taking away local ability to create health ordinances regarding the agricultural inputs. Some lawmakers believe local government is better suited to regulate because they are on the grassroots level while the state is not.
What happened? The House passed the legislation and sent it on to the Senate. There was a public hearing scheduled in the Senate for April 3, but it was canceled. The bill died there.
Senate Bill 45 would cause some employees to be forced to go through private arbitration as opposed to seeking justice in court.
Conversation: Critics say that this bill, if passed, would deny victims of wrongdoing the opportunity to have their case heard in the court and that it removes the jurisdiction of the court without a constitutional amendment.
What happened? The Senate passed the bill but it died in the House.
A proposed bill would prevent school administrators from censoring student journalists unless it is deemed libelous, invades privacy, violates laws or disrupts school.
Conversation: Most discussion centered on what level of schools to include and how to protect staff who are involved with the publications.
What happened? The same bill passed unanimously in the House last term. It was held up in the Senate. The House voted to pass House Bill 441, but it did not quite make it out of the Senate.
The General Assembly worked on bills that would expand charter schools to the whole state. Currently, charter schools are only allowed in St. Louis and Kansas City.
Conversation: Many school districts are opposed to the expansion of the charter schools, citing statistics that show they tend to be some of the lowest performing schools in the state. Creation of charter schools also takes students away from existing schools, causing those districts to lose money and make cuts. Those in favor of the expansion believe charter schools are a good way to help struggling students receive the help they need.
What happened? The House passed their version of the expansion bill. House Bill 634 was sent to the Senate, but progress stopped there.
Child abuse and neglect
Senate Bill 352 would eliminate the statute of limitations on prosecutions in cases of child abuse and neglect. The bill would remove limitations on certain acts of child abuse that prevent prosecution after three years have passed.
Conversation: Supporters say children’s lack of knowledge about sex often makes the disclosure process complicated if they are a victim of abuse. There was no testimony in opposition. Some lawmakers are worried about the rights of the accused and the jump that the bill makes to group abuse and neglect with rape and sodomy.
What happened? The bill died in committee in early February.
General Assembly size and term limits
A proposed amendment would have decreased the size of the overall General Assembly by 37 members and increased the term limits, so that legislators could serve longer and see less turnover.
Conversation: Missouri has one of the largest general assemblies in the country. Supporters believe short term limits open up the assembly to lobbyists and staff who have been around longer than legislators. Opposition says lowering the number of representatives diminishes the say of the people.
What happened? The amendment did not make it out of committee.
Several bills were filed this session about gun laws — from establishing a state gun to regulating who can carry a firearm. Some of the bills were in response to Missouri making concealed carry of a firearm without a permit legal during the last legislative session.
Conversation: The most discussed bill, House Bill 1068, would prevent those convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence from having guns. There are plenty of lawmakers both in favor and against this bill. House Bill 630 would clarify where concealed carry would be allowed and may even allow it at places such as universities and child care facilities. Supporters of this bill point out that people already bring guns into the gun-free zones. Opposition points out that police would have a hard time determining who is a shooter and who is someone with a concealed weapon trying to help in an active shooter situation.
What happened? Gun laws will continue to be a hot topic in the legislature. Both House Bill 630 and 1068 died in committee.
A “right to shop” bill aimed to incentivize patients to find cheaper health care. Patients could compare costs and select a cheaper provider, and insurance companies would be required to split the difference between the initial estimate and the cheaper alternative with the patient.
Conversation: Legislators wanted to increase transparency in the health care system with this bill. Lobbyists for hospitals and insurance agencies fear that laws would incentivize cheaper health care too much, leading to lower-quality standards.
What’s next? House Bill 123 never made it out of committee.
The fine for damaging another farmer’s crops by illegally using herbicides will increase due to successful legislation. Farmers will be fined up to $10,000 for each instance of damage and $25,000 for repeat offenders.
Conversation: Supporters say it will prevent the illegal spraying of herbicides in parts of Missouri and keep crops from being harmed like in recent years.
What happened? House Bill 662 was signed by Gov. Greitens and went into immediate effect.
Greitens announced $80 million in cuts to higher education in the coming months in order to address a $456 million budget gap for fiscal year 2017. The House and Senate had to work out budget differences that included higher education funding.
Conversation: Education officials warned this could have a negative effect on Missouri’s economy. State performance funding is also seeing some changes, which may make already unreliable funding less attainable for smaller institutions. Missouri has seen a steady decrease in higher education funding over the past few decades, a trend that is mirrored nationally.
What happened? Greitens announced his proposed 2018 budget, with higher education taking the biggest hit, with an additional $116 million in cuts. A House proposal would restore $22 million to Missouri higher education. $8.5 million of that would go to the UM System and would only go toward cooperative programs, providing little relief to their core budget. The Senate is proposed the opposite of the House, restoring more funding to the UM System core budget and less to other institutions. A conference committee minimized cuts, but higher education still took a major hit.
The Missouri Department of Transportation faces funding problems, while the state’s bridges continue to deteriorate. Former Gov. Jay Nixon cut about $34 million from MoDOT’s budget. 60 percent of Missouri bridges have outlived their original lifespans, but no money has been restored to the state budget to fix the failing infrastructure.
Conversation: One solution to funding would be an increase in the gas tax. There is plenty of support and dissent for the idea in the legislature. Greitens has voiced opposition for increases in taxes.
What happened? MoDOT will continue to dip into finite resources and try to manage backlogged projects until it can receive the funding it needs.
Gov. Eric Greitens promised no funding cuts would come to K-12 schools and actually gave them a $3 million increase in his proposed budget. However, a 34 percent cut in aid for busing will still cause money to come from classrooms.
Conversation: This cut hits rural districts the hardest, as their students are spread out and few. Cuts cause these districts to look at expanding how far students walk or putting off planned expenditures, such as textbooks and technology, to cover the extra transportation costs.
What happened? Greitens refused to comment on the issue, but legislators acknowledge the cuts don’t leave much wiggle room for schools. The state won $50 million in a tobacco settlement, and Greitens plans to use some of it to restore the cuts. However, the K-12 foundation formula was fully funded by the General Assembly’s budget.
Legislators began discussing increased protection for Missouri law enforcement officers. One proposal would have increased penalties for crimes against law enforcement officers, while another would have created an alert system, similar to an Amber Alert, for suspects who have injured or killed a police officer.
Conversation: The House passed both bills, but discussion centered around the bill regarding increased penalties. Lawmakers voiced concern that increased penalties would lead to excessive punishment. It was originally proposed to make crimes against officers hate crimes, but was removed. The bill for the Blue Alert system saw less debate.
What happened? Greitens is a strong supporter of an alert system, and similar ones are in place across the country. The Blue Alert System, for alerting citizens of suspects who have injured or killed an officer, has been tacked on to an unrelated bill that was sent to the governor to be signed.
Bills introduced in both the Missouri House and Senate would have resulted in significant changes to how and where class action lawsuits can be filed, the amount of damages a plaintiff may pursue and who could be held liable.
Conversation: Proponents say the current system gives preference to excessive suits brought by profit-motivated trial attorneys, which inflates insurance costs for businesses. Opponents say that restricting a plaintiff’s options in the civil justice system is merely a chance for already-rich corporations to further pad their bottom line by skirting civil responsibility when someone is harmed by the corporations’ actions.
What happened? Republicans’ proposed changes have been introduced in dozens of bills. However, they all met roadblocks from Democrats. One was brought up at the end, but filibustered until the Senate moved on.
Lawmakers have the ability to accept money, usually in the form of meals or gifts, from lobbyists. The House passed a bill that would ban lobbyists’ gifts in record time at the beginning of the session, but it sat untouched in the Senate. This was legislation that Gov. Greitens wanted the General Assembly to prioritize, even signing an executive order banning gifts within the executive branch.
Conversation: Representatives accept fewer gifts than Senators do, and the legislation stalled in the Senate. The same thing happened last year. Some legislators acknowledge that others have gotten used to receiving the gifts and that they will be a hard thing to let go of. The amount of gifts being accepted by legislators has been trending downward, but some say that hasn’t changed lobbyists’ influence.
What happened? House Bill 60 was left in the Senate. Senate Bill 305 came up at the end of session, but all ethics reform discussions were stalled by talk of dark money in play to slander some Senators.
Proposed legislation would have raised Missouri’s legal age of marriage with parent consent from 15 to 17 years of age. A few other states allow marriage at 13 or even younger. The legal age for sexual consent is 17 in Missouri.
Conversation: Sponsors believed the bill might help prevent sex trafficking by making it harder for parents to use marriage licenses to exploit or sell their children. Supporters believed it would also protect teens from sexual violence. Opponents are against restricting the freedom of youth. Others claim the bill did not go far enough, and the age should be set to 18.
What happened? This will continue to be a conversation within the legislature, as well as in the community. House Bill 270 was stranded in the Senate.
Proposed legislation would have asked the federal government to give the state Medicaid funding in a lump sum, allowing Missouri more control over its dispersion. Some lawmakers are concerned about the amount of money Missouri is pouring into the program.
Conversation: Proponents say the change would give the state more control over costs, while opponents say it would result in cutting crucial medical services and programs. Others are worried that not all users will get the coverage they need and that the state Medicaid program will receive less money overall.
What happened? Senate Bill 28 was heavily debated, but did not make it out of committee. Another piece of legislation is looking to limit what drugs patients with mental illnesses can receive. This is an attempt to further save state Medicaid money and was sent to the governor.
House Bill 452 would change whom patients could sue for medical malpractice. Hospitals could only be sued if the physician responsible is an employee. Hospitals could not be sued for physicians with admitting privileges.
Conversation: Some believe this will be more fair to hospitals who would not be held liable for physicians who do not always work there. Others believe the bill could make it harder for injured patients to receive damage compensation.
What happened? The House passed the bill, and sent it to the Senate. The Senate amended the bill, adding that hospitals could be held liable for malpractice if they hold a controlling stake in ownership of the staffing company that the physician is employed by. The House passed this version of the bill and sent it to the governor.
Groups who support Missouri allowing medical marijuana are already beginning their 2018 campaign. New Approach Missouri, a nonprofit supporting legal use of medical marijuana, began collecting signatures for its bid to change the state’s constitution to allow doctors to prescribe marijuana to people with conditions such as cancer, epilepsy and Alzheimer’s disease. The House has heard a similar measure to the one the nonprofit is trying to get on the ballot.
Conversation: The state would limit its marijuana growing licenses to no more than one for every 100,000 residents and track the pot from seed to sale. A 4 percent sales tax would be deposited into the state’s Veterans Health Care Fund. Supporters of medical marijuana cite how helpful it can be to those with medical conditions that it can ease. Lawmakers who are wary of the legalization are concerned about the problems it could cause for police.
What happened? Polls say 60 percent of Missourians are in favor of legalizing medical marijuana, and the last election cycle saw several more conservative states approving similar measures. New Approach Missouri must collect about 160,000 signatures to get their measure on the ballot. The nonprofit fears that the measure being discussed in the House will fail, like last year.
Minimum wage was an emerging battle within the state. Lawmakers filed a bill to block St. Louis from raising the minimum wage in the city, after voting down a proposal to gradually raise the state minimum wage to $11.
Conversation: At issue is a Missouri Supreme Court ruling to overturn a 1998 law prohibiting some cities from creating their own minimum wages. The ruling allowed St. Louis to move forward with a 2015 ordinance to raise the minimum wage to $10 an hour this year and to $11 by 2018. The battle was between parties, as Democrats tried to add amendments to slow the Republicans down on the issue.
What happened? The House voted to send the bill blocking the St. Louis minimum wage raise to the Senate and they fast-tracked the legislation. The ordinance allowing St. Louis to raise their minimum wage went into effect May 4, but the legislation to standardize minimum wage made it to the governor’s desk and will return St. Louis wages to $7.70 if signed.
The Missouri state budget for the coming year has been an underlying problem throughout this legislative session. There are severe deficits, and legislators are having a hard time agreeing on where cuts should be made. One of the most notable cuts is to higher education in the state and the UM System, but that’s only the beginning.
Conversation: Gov. Greitens proposed his budget in February, making cuts to higher education, K-12 transportation and senior citizen services.
What happened? The General Assembly had until May 5 to get the budget to the governor’s desk and they were cutting it close. The substantial differences in the House and Senate budget involved cutting millions of dollars in different places. A conference committee worked out many of the differences, and the budget was sent to Gov. Greitens on time. These included reducing cuts to higher education and the UM System, fulling funding the K-12 foundation formula and finding money for nursing care by cutting from various state construction projects.
Among other lawsuit legislation in the General Assembly was a group of bills that would change how lawsuits can be joined and where they can be filed. The law currently allows for out-of-state plaintiffs to sue in Missouri if defendants, including corporations, are located in Missouri. Current law regarding joinders allows for different plaintiffs suing the same defendant to join their cases together.
Conversation: Sponsors say the bills were aimed at reducing backlog in the 22nd Circuit Court in St. Louis City. Supporters say the bills would reduce the amount of trial attorneys simply looking for a favorable place to file lawsuits, and therefore reduce misuse of state tax dollars. Those in opposition say the bills are proposing a solution that is bigger than the problem itself.
Missouri is the only state without a prescription drug monitoring program in place. The Kansas City and St. Louis areas already implement these types of programs independently, and Columbia recently joined them. Proposed legislation would put one in place for the entire state.
Conversation: There is concern with level of access. Some want doctors to be able to access patient drug history directly, while others want there to be a middle man who controls access. There is also concern about the cost to the state of implementing such a program and mandating physicians to use the program.
What happened? There were several bills with similar goals of monitoring opioids. Senate Bill 74 passed in the Senate and died in the House. Senate Bill 231 saw no movement since the beginning of the session. House Bill 90 didn’t quite make it out of the Senate in time. The bill competed with others, but senators who have blocked it in the past are threw in support. Some of the bills conflicted and tackled different concerns with prescription drug monitoring. Senate amendments to the House Bill 90 ultimately caused it to perish in the House, as they were not willing to make some of the compromises to get the program passed.
Senate Bill 341 would have prevented minors from being charged and prosecuted for engaging in prostitution. In addition, the bill would have established stricter repercussions for patrons of prostitution with minors. Charges would change from a misdemeanor to a felony.
Conversation: The bill faced no opposition in its hearing. Sponsors said they hoped the bill will serve as a deterrent for sexual predators.
What happened? Sponsors expected the bill to move on and pass this year as it is a bipartisan issue, but it made almost no progress in committee.
House Bill 826 proposed that protesters who block roadways would face criminal charges.
Conversation: Supporters believe that the right to protest is vital to democracy but that it goes too far when it violates the rights of other citizens. Opponents believe the bill could allow police to break up all but the most peaceful protests and that it is too broad.
What happened? The bill was heard in committee, but was not put to a vote.
Missouri driver’s licenses did not comply with Real ID requirements. Starting in 2018 they would no longer be able to be used to enter government buildings or fly domestically. Both the House and the Senate proposed bills to move toward compliance.
Conversation: Privacy issues and cost to the state were some of the conflicts being discussed. Lawmakers also acknowledged that obtaining passports — which would be necessary if the Real ID requirements aren’t met — can be a pricey burden on individuals. A discussion also centered on the costs of the voter ID law that was passed last year and how that could raise costs of implementing Real ID in the future.
What happened? Senate Bill 280 was voted out of committee in the Senate and would make Real ID an option based on each person’s preference. It stalled there. The House version of the bill, House Bill 151, was passed by both houses and sent to the governor. Missouri residents will now be able to choose whether or not to obtain Real ID once the bill is signed.
Two bills were trying to eliminate gray areas in religious freedoms for students. One set protective guidelines for faith based organizations at colleges and universities. The other would have allowed elementary and secondary schools to “educate students about the history of traditional winter and spring celebrations.”
Conversation: Some lawmakers are concerned that protecting all religious beliefs could become discriminatory or offer protection to radical religious groups.
What happened? Most lawmakers seem to want to eliminate the gray area, but agree that a balance needs to be found. The bills were both left unfinished.
One of the most hotly debated topics has been a bill that abolished mandatory union fees. After a long haul, Greitens signed the contentious bill on Feb. 6, making Missouri the 28th “right-to-work” state.
Conversation: Supporters say that the legislation could lead to job growth and attract businesses to Missouri. The opposition says the fees are necessary so that unions can negotiate wages and benefits.
What happened? Some opponents are working to get a referendum on the legislation. Their deadline is August.
A bill would have banned transgender students from using bathrooms, locker rooms and showers that don’t correspond with the sex on their birth certificates, though schools could allow those students to use unisex or faculty bathrooms with parent permission.
Conversation: At the hearing, only a few spoke in support arguing for a right to privacy. Many more spoke in opposition, including transgender children. They talked about wanting to use the bathroom where they feel comfortable without being bothered and said they don’t intend to bother anyone else. School officials believe that this should be decided by the school districts.
What happened? Senate Bill 98 died after one hearing.
Tax increment financing districts (TIFs)
A proposed resolution would have required future tax increment financing districts, or TIFs, to be approved by voters in the affected area. A TIF is a tax entity designed to encourage development of blighted areas. When a developer builds in an area, property values often rise. Property taxes follow suit, and the extra revenue goes to the city, county and school districts. But when a TIF is created, the extra property tax revenue is instead reinvested into the district for improvements.
Conversation: Supporters say the economic benefits, which would be divided between the surrounding city or county and theTIF district, make it a win for everyone involved. The tradeoff is that the city, county and school districts surrounding the TIF lose out on the extra property tax revenue. Lawmakers have noticed that some developers use TIF districts for their benefit and not to the benefit of actual blighted areas.
What happened? The resolution was not passed and will not be placed on a ballot
The maximum unemployment benefits is 20 weeks, but House Bill 288 would have restricted this based on the current unemployment rate of the state. A rate of 9 percent or higher would leave the eligibility period at 20 weeks, but a rate below 6 percent would drop that to 13 weeks. In between those two rates the eligibility period would drop one week per half percent change. As of November, the rate was below 5 percent.
Conversation: The goal of the bill was to save money for Missouri’s Unemployment Trust Fund and decrease borrowing of federal money. Opposition does not want to cut the benefits from those who need them.
What happened? The bill passed in the House but stalled in the Senate.
University mental health services
House Bill 920, the product of a grassroots movement by University of Missouri students, would have required universities to set requirements for mental health standards, such as student-to-staff ratios and average wait times before initial appointments.
Conversation: Students cite two months of wait time for students who need immediate help and the consequences that can come from not obtaining that help. Others point out the costs of the bill and the costs to the universities who will have to implement them. They worry that students and families will end up absorbing the price of the bill.
What happened? The bill died in committee.
Under a proposed law, employees would have to prove that the discriminatory action occurred “because of” discrimination. Currently, employees must make the case that discrimination was a contributing factor in an action against them.
Conversation: Supporters say the current standard allows claims without merit to make it to trial, leading to high costs for employers. Opponents say the new standard would be unfair and proving intent could be impossible. An amendment that would increase protection for the LGBT community was struck down and caused a lot of discussion as well.
What’s next? Senate Bill 43 was sent to the governor. Democrats are urging Gov. Greitens to veto the bill.
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